Safety tips for solo female travelers
A few weeks ago, I ran a survey on my website about solo female travel. One of the questions I asked, was ‘What is the biggest thing holding you back from travelling alone right now?’ and the most popular answer was safety. “Will I be safe travelling alone?”.
SEE ALSO: How to stay healthy on the road, with Dr. Jane-Wilson Howarth
This was definitely one of my concerns too, before I ever set out on my own alone, aged 23. But with a bit of research, and packing the right kit, you’ll be absolutely fine. You can minimise risks and take steps to protect yourself, so all you have to do, is relax and enjoy yourself!
I've been enjoying solo travel for 16 years now, and I've travelled to - what some would classify as - “dangerous countries”. I'd like to share some top tips with you to hopefully put your mind at ease. I also interviewed international security expert Lloyd Figgins. Lloyd has decades of international travel safety expertise. He is the go-to person for his expertise on travel safety, and is a regular on Sky News and The BBC. Hopefully between the two of us we can put your mind at rest and let you go ahead and enjoy your trip.
You can hear my interview with Lloyd below, (or over on iTunes) or read on for more handy tips and resources.
Safety tips for women travelling alone
Lloyd and I have joined forces and created our top 7 tips for solo female travel:
1. Do the research!
This topic has come up in a few of my blog posts and podcasts about trip planning, and it's all about research. When I'm researching a trip, I always flick to the ‘dangers and annoyances’ section at the back of the book (Lonely Planet always have a really useful page for this). I’ll read it a couple of times before I go so I always know what I need to be aware of when I’m travelling. Whether it’s a high risk of pick-pocketing or which parts of town to avoid.
For example, whilst travelling in Peru, I had been in the country for about a month, and had to take a bus from Huacachina, that would arrive quite late at night in Lima. In the various hostels and towns I’d been visiting along the way, I had heard rumours of backpackers being targetting for muggings by taxi drivers (or even kidnapping). And seeing as I would need to take a taxi when I got to Lima, I researched the safest way to take a taxi and picked up some valuable tips (such as always checking the drivers ID card). This was also mentioned in my guidebook. In the end it was fine but I am glad I was prepared.
2. Orientate yourself
Use Google maps to take a look at the street view of where your hotel or hostel is. This only takes a minute but you can be rest assured that you’re staying in a safe area, plus you will be prepared, and recognise the street where you’re staying when you arrive.
Be sure to remember to drop a pin in your maps app on your phone, and to make a note of the hotel address. Write this down on a piece of paper just in case your phone runs out of battery, and you still have a reference and address when you arrive.
3. Be social media savvy
Of course we all love sharing our photos of out travels on Instagram or Facebook, but we need to be concious of what message that is giving out. As Lloyd mentions, a recent survey, carried out in US prisons, where they interviewed convicted criminals, 80% of them admitted, that their first port of call, when targeting someone’s house to burgle, was social media. If you’re posting on Social media when you’re traveling, even if you think you have tight security settings, you might not be as secure as you think. Post your pictures when you get home. Never post in real time.
Don’t check in to the airport on Facebook, with the details of where you’re flying to and what time you’re arriving, as this in itself is compromising your security. Does everyone on Facebook really need to know what time your flight is and that your house is empty?
4. Pack an essential travel safety kit
You don’t need to pack any spy-type gadgets to make sure you’re safe on the road. None of these items below are expensive and they make your trip stress free :)
Duct tape. This is great for repairing kit such as walking boots or rucksacks, to fix tents or mosquito nets.
Water bottle with a good filter A good water bottle filters out 99% of water borne diseases without having to carry iodine tablets around. Plus of course it's environmentally friendly!
Hand sanitizer The most common cause of injury or disease when travelling is gastro illness, caused by poor personal hygiene.
Door wedge If you’re nervous about staying in a hotel room on your own, a door wedge can help put your mind at ease. Even if somebody else has a master key to your room, they can’t get in if you have used a door wedge.
Powerful flashlight (not the one on your phone!). This is so handy - for walking down poorly lit streets at night (some towns will not have streetlights), reading in your hostel room (great if you’re in a shared room as you can still read without annoying everyone with keeping the light on), or even if you need to pee when you’re camping at night! This definitely came in handy for me when I was camping in a bush camp in Tanzania - you want to see where you’re going when it’s pitch black and there are animals around!
The right footwear If you’re on a long term trip, leave the heels at home! Honestly you don’t need them. Take comfy trainers (you can always pack a pair of pumps if you want something a bit more feminine), but if you want to get around quickly and safely, wear the right shoes.
5. Take a few easy steps to stay safe
Do the research (yes, I love my research!). If you’re thinking about white-water rafting, take a few minutes to read the reviews on TripAdvisor. Review based websites are invaluable when it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone.
Talk to other travellers along the way. This is how I found out about the risks of taking a taxi late at night in Lima, by chatting to travellers who had just arrived from there. Plus they’re the most likely people to have the most up to date information of any recent dangers or annoyances. Or they might even give you a heads up as to which hotels or hostels to avoid.
6. Trust your gut instinct
Both Lloyd and I agree, that the most important tool we all have is our good instinct. Trust your gut. If something feels not quite right, remove yourself from the situation. As Lloyd says, ‘my first rule of risk management is to never push a bad situation’. Your gut instinct is the one thing, when travelling, is your most useful tool. If that little voice is saying that something feels wrong, listen to it.
I’ve had to rely on my gut instinct on more than one occasion in the past. When I was in Costa Rica, the owner of the hostel was being a little too friendly with me. He didn’t do anything per se, but he did make me feel uncomfortable. Especially when there was no one else around. I ended up switching my room so that I was sharing with a fellow solo female traveller (and shared my doubts with her). We both checked out the next morning.
7. How to travel safely on public transport when travelling
Conceal all of your valuables. I know this sounds super obvious, but don’t take a local bus with an expensive camera worth a few hundred dollars around your neck. Keep your valuables in a money belt under your clothes and only carry small amount of change or notes.
Until talking to Lloyd, I didn’t realise that there were areas on a bus or plane that were statistically safer! Avoid sitting at the front of a bus, or the back. Sit in the middle, on an aisle seat, on the side away from oncoming traffic. Anxious about flying? Sitting at the rear of the aircraft is the safest place to sit. And if you’re affected by turbulence, the best place to sit is the middle of the aircraft (especially in the middle of the central block if you can) - you will feel the turbulence a lot less. It’s really unlikely that anything will happen, but by doing these little things, you can greatly increase your safety should anything happen.
SEE ALSO: 11 essential tips for the first time backpacker